In Parenthesis

Title: In Parenthesis: A Summary

Author: David Jones
Publication Date: 1937
Genre: War literature, Modernist poetry
Page Length: Approximately 220 pages


In Parenthesis is a groundbreaking work of modernist poetry by British poet and artist David Jones. Published in 1937, the narrative delves into the traumatic experiences of soldiers during World War I, specifically focusing on the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Through Jones’s distinctive poetic style and meticulous attention to historical details, this work offers readers a profound understanding of the physical and emotional horror that defined the war.

Section 1: Opening Chorus and London
In the first section of In Parenthesis, the reader is introduced to a motley group of British soldiers, known as the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, as they embark on a journey towards the warfront. This section, titled “Opening Chorus and London,” sets the tone for the subsequent chapters by portraying the camaraderie, fears, and uncertainties faced by the soldiers. The poem captures the pre-war anticipation, the ominous atmosphere in London, and the impending transformation of the mundane into a harrowing reality.

Section 2: France and Flanders
“France and Flanders” delves into the personal experiences of the soldiers as they arrive at the trenches. Jones paints a vivid picture of the war-ravaged landscapes, the trenches, and the constant bombardment. The main character Private John Ball is closely followed throughout the narrative, providing a relatable viewpoint into the chaos and destruction of the war.

Section 3: Lanstrum
“Lanstrum” transports the reader deeper into the conflict, exploring the relationships between soldiers and the challenges they face on a daily basis. It focuses on the retreat to Lanstrum, a fictional village, where the soldiers find temporary respite. The narrative showcases the fusion of reality and legend, with Jones drawing heavily on Welsh mythology to illustrate the soldiers’ collective experiences and the unbreakable bond formed amidst the adversity.

Section 4: Mametz Wood
In one of the most poignant sections of the work, “Mametz Wood” depicts the Royal Welsh Fusiliers’ involvement in the Battle of Mametz Wood. Here, Jones masterfully portrays the sheer horror and violence of the battle, capturing the confusion, brutality, and devastating losses suffered by the soldiers. The woods themselves become a symbol of the unfathomable depths of suffering and sacrifice.

Section 5: Night March and Battalion
“Night March and Battalion” portrays the soldiers’ experiences beyond the frontlines, as they are called upon to perform support duties and engage in night marches. This section emphasizes the monotonous routines, constant danger, and the ever-present sense of impending death that permeate the lives of those in war.

Section 6: Shell-Gatherers and Scribes
In perhaps the most introspective section, “Shell-Gatherers and Scribes” focuses on the aftereffects of the battle and the soldiers’ attempts to process and memorialize their experiences. It explores the theme of memory, the role of art and literature, and the struggle to find meaning and understanding amid the chaos. Jones transcends the immediate context of the war, discussing broader existential questions.

In Parenthesis, with its lyrical and innovative poetic style, serves as a poignant testimony to the horrors of World War I. David Jones skillfully weaves together historical authenticity, personal experiences, and mythical elements to create a work that not only commemorates the sacrifices made by soldiers but also explores the universality of human suffering and the power of art to give voice to those who experienced unimaginable trauma. A powerful testament to the human condition, this work continues to prompt reflection on the nature of war and the complexities of human existence.